From the day we started primary school until the moment we received a rose from our high-school headmasters, we endlessly complained about school meals. The fact that school meals were free, included a salad bar, a main dish, a vegetarian option, Finnish crisp bread (näkkileipä), and occasionally a dessert, played no role in our judgement. In primary school, we thought that the food tasted like snot; in secondary school, we claimed that it was inedible; and in high school, we just went to McDonald’s instead.
After high school, reality hit hard when I, among many others, realized that I now had to pay for my lunch. All of a sudden McDonald’s didn’t seem that exotic and fun. The only bright side of a paid lunch is that I can be sure there’s not a budding Jamie Oliver throwing chicken hearts stolen from a biology class into my pea soup.
When I was a child, one of things I love most was to spend a week in my family’s summer lake cottage. There, I swam, played tikka, ate sausages, fished, and walked with stilts. Then, I became a teenager, and the closer I got to the magic age of 18, the more I disliked the idea of being stuck with my parents in the middle of nowhere with no internet, no friends, and no beer. The breakthrough happened when the first of my friends got their driving licence so that we could go to our families’ summer cottages by ourselves; I started to see an old family prison as the perfect getaway. Summer cottages are the place for you and your friends to fulfill your weirdest desires, like get naked (sauna is a must anyway), scream and run around, cut someone’s hair in a funny way, or perform some sort of tribal dances. The kind of things your parents wouldn’t, and absolutely shouldn’t, ever allow you to do.
Most people who live in countries where it doesn’t snow would probably have appreciated a chance to ski during PE. But, guess what, it snowed every winter in Finland when I went to school and the skiing trips turned out to be boring and exhausting.
When skiing in the middle of a group of kids, the average speed is about 3.5-kilometres per hour. If you are not one of the fittest (me) or you don’t understand a certain technique (me, again) even that feels too fast. You are bound to something that prevents you from walking, holding two sticks without any idea how to use them, and at the same time, you’re expected to keep up with the person in front of you; of course, it’s the freaky one that has been waiting for this skiing trip since summer. As a result you’re sweating even if it’s freezing cold out and can’t stop wondering, “Why on earth didn’t we go ice skating today?”
Growing up in Finland is impossible without Moomins. They are everywhere from day one: you read Moomin books, you watched Moomin tv shows, you used Moomin mugs, you slept with a Moomin stuffy, and you played with tiny Moomin figures who live in a Moomin house.
When you learnt that there are countries where children don’t know what Moomins are, you were stunned. I still have no idea how one is able to become a normal, nice person without knowing how Moomintroll became a tarsier when he hid in the magician’s hat, or without being aware of the tragedy of the Groke.
Palm Sunday used to be a bit like Halloween; it was the day for which you had been waiting all year long. You collected twigs, decorated them in class, and on the big day, dressed yourself as a witch and your little brother/sister as your cat (this is a part of the fun). Then you went around in the neighborhood giving sticks to adults who responded with candy (or in the best case scenario, money). When I became a teenager the concept changed dramatically. Instead of going from door-to-door I just hid when kids came knocking so that I could keep all the candies my parents had bought for the day.